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Daihatsu Terios II 1.5 4X4 Off-Road

17 August 2008

You get the Terios II short wheelbase, and then you get the Terios II Off-Road version. The former is quite capable in itself, but the latter is more fun off-road, thanks to a higher ride height, snortier exhaust and a couple of chrome thingies. We tried it…

Daihatsu has always punted itself as a small car specialist so it is fitting that the Japanese manufacturer makes the smallest 4×4 in the land. Okay, so the Fiat Panda is actually smaller and is available in an all-wheel-drive version, but we’re hard pressed to accept it as a 4×4. So it’s official from the Leisure Wheels team, then. The Daihatsu is The One – especially in Off -Road guise.

The Off -Road was introduced in October last year as a special version of the Terios short wheelbase 4×4, dressed up to have a more, er, hardcore demeanour… which is seemingly at odds with a vehicle measuring just four metres from the nudge bar to the ti p of the big bore exhaust and mustering 87 kW from a powertrain without low range.

Yet on the face of it the basic Terios makes a more convincing case for itself as a capable soft -roader than most of the opposition.

It has negligible overhangs and the live rear axle looks more rugged than the independent systems you’ll find under the back of most rivals. Most importantly, however, the Terios has a lockable centre differential and plenty of ground clearance.

Features and equipment
★ ★ ★

The Terios Off -Road is priced at R214 994, which looks like quite a lot for a 1,5-litre motorcar. But there’s plenty of added value in it. Let’s start with the important bits, such as 16-inch alloys with 70- profile tyres, which help raise ground clearance to an impressive 215mm (Daihatsu says ride height is 50mm higher than standard). Local tweaking of the exhaust system of the DOHC variable valve timing engine pushes power from the standard 77 kW/140 Nm to 87 and 150.

The tailpipe tone would do a hot hatch proud. Both the power and torque curves have moved 200 r/min, now peaking at 6200 and 4600 respectively.

Another item adding to the price shift from R189 995 for the standard Terios is an integrated Garmin GPS that relays information via a JVC liquid crystal touch screen. The screen is actually part of the sound system, with the display tilting forward to reveal the CD slot.

Apart from tough-looking seat covers fitted up front, the interior is otherwise standard. Net compartments and zipper pockets make the covers useful for storing a variety of items, with rear occupants having access to particularly roomy storage compartments in the backrest of the front seats.

From the outside, the Off -Road easily stands out from ordinary versions thanks to the big spotlights mounted on the nudge bar and the step-bars below the sills. A removable towbar is also fitted.

★ ★ ★

Cosy is what best describes the interior of the Terios and it doesn’t take much for it to feel cluttered. Sure, there are plenty of storage areas but most of them are too small to be particularly practical and once somewhere is found to keep the separate remote controls for SatNav and sound system there isn’t much room for anything else.

Add in a wallet, a cellphone or two and a couple of pairs of sunglasses and space is at a premium.

The design, colour and texture of the covers fitted to the front seats create a suitably rugged mood and the cabin feels both practical and workmanlike in terms of finishes. It doesn’t pretend to be upmarket but does manage to project an appealing image.

The three-spoke wheel is a comfortable fit and most drivers will get a clear view of the gauges – speedo, tacho and fuel – with warning lights informing the driver of the upper and lower extremes of engine temperature. However, despite height adjustments for wheel and chair, not all drivers found the seating comfort or the driving position ideal and some found a significant arc of the tachometer obscured.

Secondary controls are simple and straight-forward with chunky buttons and rotary switches for the air-conditioning, but the butt ons on the LCD are tiny and make it a pain to use without the remote, though some functions are on the screen itself.

A small and neatly installed rocker switch to the right of the steering column switches the big halogens on and off , and the same locale is where the driver will find the push butt on to activate the differential lock.

Rear accommodation is not bad considering the dimensions, with legroom better than adequate thanks to a generous wheelbase – in fact, it is 20mm longer between the axles than a RAV4. Two adults can be comfortably accommodated in the rear compartment and the backrest angle can be varied easily for a more reclined seating position. Rear seats are upholstered in velour. The narrow cabin is what limits its suitability as a five-seater, however.

The Terios’s tailgate carries the spare wheel, but despite this it’s easy enough to swing open, revealing a luggage compartment measuring a claimed 380 litres, with a low floor. It is also quick and simple to stow the back seats – they fold and tumble – to enlarge the luggage compartment. A retractable cover clips onto the pillars of the rear headrests, which means the cover fits snugly irrespective of the position of the 60/40 backrests.

★ ★ ★

With 1495cc at more or less the same number of metres above sea level, the Terios was never going to be a ball of fi re when pitt ed against our Racelogic test equipment.

However, with the locally developed stainless steel exhaust system it does have a reasonable amount of get-up-and-go and feels lively in stop-go traffic. But the driver does need to be proactive with the gear lever and more revs are needed than sometimes feels comfortable in a bid to keep it in the powerband.

It is less endearing on the open road and despite being geared at a modest 29 km/h in top gear, early downshift s are required to maintain any kind of respectable cruising. And while the bottom and top ends of the powerband are good, it needs more in the mid-range to make it less tiring on the open road.

Matters weren’t helped by a sticky gearbox on our test unit, which meant changing gear required a determined tug on the lever to extract it from one gear and plug it into the next.

Daihatsu has fitted a full range of braking aids and retardation is consistent, if not especially rapid. The stoppers are a mix of ventilated discs in front and drums at the back.

Ride/ handling
★ ★ ★

First the good news: the Terios Off-Road lives up to its name and left us very impressed with the way it tackled the dirt. In is incredibly nimble and combines a tiny turning circle with lots of ground clearance and short overhangs.

While the suspension travel is not exceptional, the centre diff lock means there is good go-forward even on very uneven surfaces.

And while hill descent control would be welcome, the short first gear makes it both fairly easy to maintain control on downhills or tackle relatively steep climbs. The low down torque certainly helped, too, and we never needed to rush at obstacles to be sure of clearing them before the engine bogged down.

The tyres played an important part, steering accurately on a variety of firm and loose surfaces and contributing still further to the Terios’s remarkable agility and nimbleness.

But we suspect they also play a significant part in the car’s poor ride and there is very little in the way of plushness to smooth out the ripples, lumps and potholes of our suburban roads.

You feel every little bump and the rear is completely unforgiving – we’ve driven race cars with more compliance – and there’s also a lot of tyre noise to go with that emanating from the tailpipe.

★ ★ ★

The Terios Off-Road finds itself positioned in no man’s land, though “glass half-full” people may see that as an opportunity, because it also has no obvious rivals. There’s not much without low range that can match it in the dirt and it feels tough enough to play there all day.

But the off-road competency comes at a cost: noise levels and harsh ride make it a tiring companion on the tar while even in upgraded form the small engine makes open road cruising something of a chore.